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Ear to the Ground

Airport Screeners Help Spot Forced Marriages

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Posted on Aug 17, 2013
visualrhetor (CC BY-NC 2.0)

This summer, a spoon could save a young girl’s life.

In the U.K. this summer, airport security machines are detecting a different kind of danger, but these alarms are being intentionally triggered as young girls who suspect they are being taken abroad for a forced marriage place metal spoons in their underwear to alert authorities. The idea was spread by a charity called Karma Nirvana, which serves as a helpline for girls who have been ordered to wed against their wishes.

The nonprofit was started by Jasvinder Sanghera after she was shunned by her family for refusing to comply with a marriage arranged for her in India. The Independent reports:

The charity takes about 600 calls a month. “When youngsters ring, if they don’t know exactly when it may happen, or if it’s going to happen, we advise them to put a spoon in their underwear,” charity spokesman, Natasha Rattu, said.

She added: “When they go through security, it will highlight this object in a private area and, if 16 or over, they will be taken to a safe space where they have that one last opportunity to disclose they’re being forced to marry.

“We’ve had people ring and say that it’s helped them and got them out of a dangerous situation. It’s an incredibly difficult thing to do with your family around you—but they won’t be aware you have done it. It’s a safe way.”

This summer, as children got time off from school, the British government issued an official warning about young girls being taken abroad to be wed. The reason there is usually a rise in these incidents during this season is children are less likely to be missed then.

The U.K. Foreign Office’s Forced Marriage Unit deals with more than 1,500 incidents every year related to more than 60 countries, the most prominent being Pakistan, Bangladesh and India. The victims’ ages range from 2 to 71 and a large chunk are under 16. Just last month, a video was released featuring 11-year-old Nada al-Ahdal exclaiming she’d rather die than let her parents marry her off to a grown man in Yemen. She was able to escape, as have some girls who have placed spoons in their underwear, but, as Nada so precociously reminds us, “I managed to solve my problem, but some innocent children can’t solve theirs. And they might die, commit suicide, or do whatever comes to mind. ... It’s not our fault. I’m not the only one. It can happen to any child.”

—Posted by Natasha Hakimi

 

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